Happy birthday, Daniel W. Hoan! (And Increase Lapham)

Thanks to Rick Kissell for pointing out that today is the birthday of former Milwaukee Mayor Daniel W. Hoan, his 129th birthday if he were still alive. Arguably our greatest (though not our last) Socialist mayor, Hoan cleaned up Milwaukee after a string of deeply corrupt mayors, such as David Rose, friend of the brothels and gambling parlors.

After starting one of the cleanest governments the nation has seen, Mayor Hoan helped guide Milwaukee through the Great Depression, arguably preventing it from fully hitting Milwaukee for a full year after the onset. As Time magazine wrote in April 1936, “Republicans and Democrats have virtually lost their separate identities in uniting to oppose him. Yet Daniel Webster Hoan remains one of the nation’s ablest public servants, and under him Milwaukee has become perhaps the best-governed city in the U. S.”

A few days ago, March 7 to be exact, was the 199th anniversary of the birth of Mr. Increase Lapham. Folks from Wisconsin may have heard the name Lapham before. And for good reason: he was a heck of a guy! According to Wikipedia—and my seven-year-old—Lapham helped start “the first weather thing,” which Wikipedia clarified as being the U.S Weather Service, and “made the first map of Wisconsin in the country.” (Or, as Wikipedia says,”the first substantial book on the geography of the Wisconsin Territory.”)

I also know from my class on the history of Milwaukee that Lapham was quite a scientist and collector, and his personal collection of artifacts, insect, and animal specimens still serve as the basis of the collection at the Milwaukee Public Museum.

Wikipedia correctly notes that many landmarks in southeastern Wisconsin have been named after him, “including Lapham Peak, the highest point in Waukesha County, Wisconsin, University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee buildings, and streets [such as this one]. In Madison, Wisconsin, he currently has an elementary school named after him.”

My daughter attends that school, and they just had a birthday party in Mr. Lapham’s honor. Apparently marble cake was served, though I have no information as to whether or not it was one of his favorites.

Milwaukeeans know of the Hoan Bridge, though not all are aware that it was named after our great Socialist mayor. Ironically—and Hoan would have hated this—for the longest time it truly was a “Bridge to Nowhere.” Protest and disagreements kept it from being completed for some time. Do you remember the car chase scene in the The Blues Brothers? That was the yet-unfinished Hoan Bridge.

It’s actually a good question what Dan Hoan would have thought of the bridge being built at all, as he was vehemently opposed to lakefront development.

Happy birthday, Mr. Mayor, and belated happy birthday to you, Mr. Increase Lapham! You both helped make a wonderful city for us to live in.

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Author: Jason Haas

Jason is an elected member of the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors, occasionally moonlights as an amateur gardener, and is a proud father of two, or three, depending on how you do the math.